GW, huge D.C. landowner, says city overcharged property taxes by $7 million

The University is taking on the city to recover more than $7 million in property taxes, claiming the city did not fairly weigh the value of GW-owned buildings.

The University, one of the largest landowners in D.C., filed three lawsuits against the District on Sept. 23, claiming it slapped GW with excessive property taxes because four buildings had been incorrectly assessed.

The GW-owned properties include 2000 and 2100 Pennsylvania Ave., 805 21st St. and One Washington Circle. It has already pushed D.C. to change its assessments twice, beginning in 2012.

David Brunori, a research professor of public policy in GW Law School, said challenges to property assessments are common when a large amount of money is at stake.

“Companies and organizations win quite often. In fact, they win much more often than ordinary homeowners,” thanks to their deep pockets, Brunori said.

The University, which had about 36 percent of its total cash and investments in real estate as of last year, is exempt from taxes on most of its property. But Brunori said its commercial properties are fair game.

“Local governments across the country have been strapped for cash and have been aggressive in assessments,” he said. “Universities nationwide tend to be a target, a pretty easy target politically. They’re not citizens who live there and vote.”

The largest tax discrepancy in GW’s case centers on The Shops at 2000 Penn. The University claims the city overvalued the property by $66 million, leading to $4.3 million in extra taxes.

The city’s most recent assessment raised the property’s value by 31 percent compared to the 2012 tax year, according to the documents. GW claims that the city did not take into account factors such as the property’s location, usage, operating costs and earning capacity.

The University is demanding that the city reduce the 2013 assessment and refund the excessive taxes, as well as interest on the amount.

The University filed a petition against the assessment in March 2012, but the Office of Tax and Revenue then ignored the appeal four months later, according to the lawsuit. A month later, the University tried another appeal, but was again denied in January 2013.

GW made the same claims about 2100 Pennsylvania Ave., asserting that the property’s renters made it a “risky investment.” It contends that the city increased the value by $8 million even though the property’s situation had deteriorated.

That property, which will be renovated starting in 2014 to create an office complex, involves $2.1 million of taxes in controversy.

The University is also challenging the value assigned to One Washington Circle Hotel, which the city set at about $26.4 million, even though hotel revenues decreased the previous year. D.C. twice shut down the appeal over the $482,997 in taxes that GW claims it is owed.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard did not return a request for comment. The attorneys representing GW and D.C. also did not respond to requests.

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